2012 Fiat 500 Long Term Road Test - Audio & Technology

2012 FIAT 500 Long Term Road Test

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Stop Asking Already

March 29, 2012


The Bluetooth interface on our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport is pretty basic. The process for pairing a phone is straightforward, but it involves talking to the robotic Blue&Me narrator whether you like it or not.

There's also little ability to customize settings or troubleshoot problems. For instance, you can add phones from here to who knows how many/long, but you can't delete a phone. When I got a new iPhone that had the same number as my old iPhone (which had already been paired), I couldn't pair the new phone. And I had no idea why.

Randomly yesterday, after repeated tries on different days, the Fiat finally allowed me to pair the new phone. However, due to the non-delete aspect of the system, I decided that this time I didn't want to copy my phonebook to its ill-defined blackhole. So I responded no when I got the above visual and audio prompt from the Blue&Me lady.

If only that had been the end of it...

No, see, instead, every time I start up the car, the Blue&Me lady waits until I'm a couple minutes into the drive and then disregards my initial negatory response and interrupts my radio programming to ask again (audibly) if I'd like to copy my phonebook.

No means no. And once should be enough.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 14,290 miles

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2012 Fiat 500: The Optional Nav

March 21, 2012

When we first got our 2012 Fiat 500, we spent a significant amount of time deciding what we should/should not get on it. One of the items we dismissed first was the $400 TomTom navigation system.

Too bad, too, because this system is kind of neat.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: All I Need (again)

March 19, 2012


Some of you might remember that I was happy to find the (recently departed) 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman All4 was able to accept and play my iPhone's Pandora app; even displaying the song title on the car's head unit.

Well, I tried to play Pandora through the USB connection in our new Fiat and voila! But here's the strangest part: Same song title, but different artist this time. The first time it was, as some of you suspected, Air. This time it was Radiohead.

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Low Memory? This can't be good.

March 19, 2012

I searched both the basic and supplementary owner's manuals for this warning message to no avail. A quick internet search reveals that it has to do with Fiat's Eco:Drive program and the driving data it has been accumulating. It looks like we've logged almost 3,000 miles since the last data offload and the car is letting us know. Since Carroll detailed the oh-so-simple process here, I'll get right on it. Oh, Carroll?

Chief Road Test Editor, Chris Walton @ 13,754 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Bose Audio, Standard

March 13, 2012

Fiat 500 Bose.jpg

$6,300 for the Bang & Olufsen sound system in our long-term 2012 Audi A8L?? For that price, the A8 should buy you dinner before you drive it, and then make you breakfast the following morning.

Our long-term 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, on the other hand, has a Bose Audio system standard (on the Sport, Lounge, and Gucci; optional on the Pop.) The Fiat materials say they are Bose Energy Efficient Series with 6 speakers and a sub.

The system sounds just OK; I find that Bose systems are hit and miss. And this one doesn't sound that great -- but it's included in the $19,200 price!

What's your favorite premium-branded audio system and how much would you be willing to pay for it?

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ ~13,500 miles

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2012 Fiat 500: Small Grievances from the Road

February 22, 2012


Seven-hundred twenty-two miles of solo driving provides ample time to reflect on a car's faults, not to mention my own faults, and the faults of my close friends and family. But today I'll just tell you about a couple issues I noticed in our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport during my Vegas road trip with a detour through Death Valley.

The first concerns the sun visors.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Going on a Road Trip

February 08, 2012


This Sunday I'll be going on a "business trip" to Vegas, where I'll be driving a couple cars we haven't tested before. I could have requested our Audi A8 or BMW X3 for my journey, but why go with a safe, boring choice? And so I'll be taking our long-term Fiat 500.

This car doesn't have the best highway ride -- it's not harsh per se, but it is bouncy over the expansion joints -- and the wind noise is pretty significant at 70 mph. So we'll see how long it takes for this stuff to annoy me, or maybe it never will. The seats in this car are pretty cushy for a microcompact and seem like they might be road-trip-worthy.

I'm also going to hook up the car's special USB stick so we can track mpg in Fiat's EcoDrive program. Carroll started us down that path back in December, but we haven't been very diligent about tracking our driving habits, and Fiat doesn't make that super straightforward, as you have to download an application to your computer and then set up your own login credentials -- seems like it would be easier if Fiat just let you log into a website with one account that's unique to the car. But whatever, I'll use the Vegas trip to log some data in EcoDrive and report back.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: I Was Doing It Wrong

December 27, 2011

Fiat USB2.jpg

I've been struggling with the eco:Drive in the Fiat lately. When I insert the USB, I get an "update complete" message, and then the Blue&Me connectivity system tells me to remove the USB. I couldn't figure out how my driving data was being preserved if the stick wasn't in place.

It wasn't being collected, of course. Once I'd RTF eco:Drive instructions, I discovered I'd been incorrectly using the USB. I got it right the first time, but not thereafter, apparently. Here are the steps I should have followed, and will follow from now on.

1) Plug the eco:Drive-ready USB stick into the USB port.

2) Turn on the ignition without switching on the engine. (This is where I screwed up. I had the engine switched on.) eco:Drive will automatically install. Once finished, the "update complete"message will appear in the car's display.

3) Remove the USB stick from the USB port. (The system will tell you to do this. Emphatically. If you don't, the display basically freezes and you can't access the audio system until you shut off the car and remove the USB.)

4) Switch on the engine. After a few seconds, the message "ECODRIVE ON" will appear in the display. eco:Drive is ready to go. Plug the USB stick back into your car to start collecting data.

So simple if you just do what you're supposed to do. Duh.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,921 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: More on Living in ecoVille

December 05, 2011


On Friday, I reported on the results of Fiat's eco:Drive analysis after five days of driving. I doubted one stat it yielded: eco:Drive said I was averaging 36.7 miles per gallon. It seemed high, given that our monthly average for the car is more like 31 mpg.

After I filled up this morning, I did the long division for this trip/tank: 36.1 mpg. So eco:Drive was in the ballpark. These are nearly all highway miles, by the way. I think that's what pulled the number up.

I also spent some time this weekend trying to match my gear shifts to those that Fiat recommends for optimal fuel economy. Unfortunately, they make the car feel impossibly poky and weak. At the risk of banishment from ecoVille, I'm going to take the reminder Post-it off the dash and drive the way I feel it.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @10,273 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Checking Out the eco:Drive

December 02, 2011

Gear Shift problem.jpg

I've spent the last five days driving around with the eco:Drive program, which is monitoring my driving habits with an eye towards fuel efficiency. To answer the question Mike posed when he introduced this device, I think the information it's reporting is more cool than gimmicky.

To recap a bit: The eco:Drive program records data from the car for each trip, including the behavior of the engine and the gearbox. It wants a five-day baseline for starters. When you remove the data-loaded USB stick and download it onto a computer outfitted with the eco:Drive app, the information from the car goes to Fiat servers. They process it and make it all cool and Italian, like a cross between "La Dolce Vita" and a Paolo Conte record. Sorry. No. I made that last part up.

Actually, Fiat does some analysis and fairly quickly, "the eco:Index calculated is then displayed on your computer screen," Fiat says. The company takes pains to explain that your data "is not tagged with your details in any way. We do not know who the data belongs to, and are unable to pass it on to any third parties. In short, your data is entirely secure."

Good. I'd hate the EPA to learn the following: With a score of 48, I'm a sub-par eco-conscious driver. If this was straight-up academic grading, I think I'd have earned an F.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Small Convenience

November 18, 2011


Our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport doesn't have parking lights, so I usually turn on the headlights when driving around our office's subterranean garage. On this particular day, I forgot turn them off once I was topside, and I even forgot to turn them off once I'd shut off the engine and parked at a deli for lunch (shown above).

I returned to the car, noticed that the headlights were still in the "on" position, but that the car had obviously turned them off automatically. In a car that's a little hit-and-miss with the conveniences (no auto-up windows, no steering-wheel telescope, etc.), this was unexpected and appreciated.

I should also note that at night these projector-beam headlights throw out a better spread of light (that is, brighter and the beams seem to reach farther) than the reflector-type headlights on our similarly priced Mazda 2 Touring did. So, projector-beam headlights -- another fabulous small convenience!

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 9,689 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Introduction to eco:Drive

November 17, 2011


As the proud owners of a 2012 Fiat 500 Sport, we received this personalized mailer last week. See the front page? That isn't a keychain, it's a USB drive. Fiat calls this eco:Drive.

Basically, plug this USB into a port in the glovebox and it records your driving habits. Then plug it into your computer and it interacts with an eco:Drive app from the Fiat website. We're expecting charts, graphs and the sort. We can't tell yet if this is cool, or gimmicky. We'll check it out and report back.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

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2012 Fiat 500: Hidden Controls

November 13, 2011


Several of our 2102 Fiat 500's controls take some getting used to, and some seem almost intentionally hidden -- even the ones we all use quite often. Resetting the trip meter is a bit frustrating until you learn its unique location on the end of the windshield wiper stalk. It's labelled, but only in a manner the front passenger can see.

The dash-mounted volume and tuning buttons for the stereo are particularly galling in that they are styled to look like protruding twist-knobs at a glance, but they're really just buttons. I've reached up to crank up the volume (and we all say crank for a reason) with a twisting grasp already pre-loaded on more than one occasion. Psyche!

Thankfully, and to a caertain extent secretly, Chrysler's corporate standard steering-mounted audio buttons sit hidden on the back face of the main steering wheel spokes at 9 and 3 o'clock. Thery're not marked in any way, but they are there if you hunt around.

At the head unit, the volume controls (such as they are) are on the left and the tuning controls sit to the right. This matches every single car stereo I've ever owned, every two-stem radio I've ever removed from a car and every aftermarket stereo I've ever bought from Crutchfield and installed myself.

Compared to this the steering wheel buttons seem backwards: the volume one is on the right at 3 o'clock and the tuning/preset scan one is on the left at 9 o'clock. In more than one Chrysler product of recent vintage -- and now this Fiat -- I've accidentally changed the station when I wanted to up the volume.

At least they're there. And I suppose I'd eventually get used to it if this was the only car I drove every day. But I still don't see the point of swimming upstream of 50 years of standardization: left = volume, right = tune.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing

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2012 Fiat 500: DVD Owner's Manual Alternative

October 27, 2011


Yesterday I needed to Refer to The Factory Manual (RTFM) contained within the glove compartment of our 2012 Fiat 500.

But it wasn't there. Must be on somebody's desk.

No problem, the owner's manual wallet was still there, and in it I found a DVD version. Hello laptop.

Common operations are demonstrated in short video clips. I was able to sit on my own couch and learn the basics of phone pairing, seat adjustment (their seat height adjuster works so much better than ours) and the proper use of the "sport" button, among other things.

Fiat is quick to point out that this Owner's Information DVD is not a substitute for the actual owner's manual, probably because it does not go on for 15 pages on the proper use of seat belts or contain myriad lawyer-generated warnings and cautions.

But it's not just that; the minutiae is not there, the stuff that tends to send us rummaging for the owner's manual in the first place. Think of it as a quick-start guide. You may still need to RTFM if you get stuck.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 9,153 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: The Miracle of Hill-Start Assist

September 26, 2011


It turns out that the best theft-deterrent you can buy for your car these days is a manual transmission.

Only about 8 percent of new cars sold in the U.S. are equipped with a manual transmission these days compared to 22 percent in 1985. And this means that fewer and fewer people each year know how to drive a car with a manual transmission.

So it makes you wonder why anyone would choose the five-speed manual transmission over the six-speed automatic for the Fiat 500. This goes double if you live in the suburb of L.A. where I do, which has hills kind of the way San Francisco has hills.

But there’s no scent of burning clutch material after driving the Fiat 500 around my town.

You can be stopped on a hill at an angle that makes you think the car is pointed toward the heavens like a passenger jet on takeoff, and yet there’s no roll back when you start doing that three-pedal shuffle to get going when the traffic light turns green. And no roll back means no fear of punching the grille of the car behind you, no desperate clutch slip as you struggle to engage the clutch just the right amount to build forward momentum without stalling the engine.

Turns out that the Fiat 500 has hill-start assist, just like so many vehicles do these days — full-size pickup trucks as well as small subcompacts.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: ...Can't Figure Out the USB Interface

September 23, 2011

Fiat 500 dash unavailable.jpg

"Rex," I said to our Vice Chairman of making-sure-people-have-something-to-drive-home, "I won't be around when the board comes around. Sign me out for something. Prioritize iPod! Thanks!" A few hours later the text came in "Fiat 500 is all yours."


See, I've now spent a few thousand miles behind the wheels of various new Fiat 500s and I have absolutely, positively NO idea how to work the USB functions. And I'm a guy who doesn't go a day without plugging some USB-powered-music-holding-device into something else.

I mean, I get the basics, I plug the device in (the port is in the glove box) and can get the songs to play in random order. I can adjust the volume and get it to switch from one track to some other random track. But that is absolutely all I can do.

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Bluetooth Ease

September 08, 2011


Even though Editor John DiPietro had some trouble trying to get our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport to understand his heavy Boston accent when trying to make a call and thought the microphone lacked clarity, I like how easy it is to pair my phone to the car's Blue&Me system via Bluetooth.

You see, most other cars with Bluetooth have a certain number of slots for a certain number of paired phones (I'm looking at you, Juke). Can be a bit of a bother when you have 20+ editors cycling through it. Plus I hate having to record the name of my phone and then I have to hear my recorded annoyed voice, in addition to the other editors' annoyed voices, every time I go to select it from the list repeated over the speakers. (BTW, some editors come up with strange names for their phones. What's a kaitai?)

But in the Fiat I just select Settings, Pair and wait for the number code to be announced and then plug that into my phone. None of this having to take up slots, delete a phone or record a name. So nice.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 7,791 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Over 150 Mopar Accessories Now Available

July 28, 2011

2012 Fiat500 bra.jpg

There are a number of ways to make a cute car less cute. Crashing it into a wall is a terrible way to accomplish the task, buying accessories to toughen it up, however, is a good way.

Take this new car-bra offered by Mopar, it takes the normally cute Fiat 500 and turns it into Hannibal Lecter.

It's one of over 150 options available for the Fiat from MOPAR that include (deep breath in): Roof and Hood graphics in U.S., Canadian, Italian and Mexican flags as well as a variety of race stripes and checkered and striped graphics ($319 - $534); Body-side graphics in a range of colors ($409 - $439); Body-side molding inserts $99; Roof Rack ($399); Bike carriers for the roof rack ($116) or hitch mounted ($99 for the receiver and $192 for the Carrier); UCONNECT Web ($399); Seat Covers, Slush mats, Chrome Shift Knob, Chrome Fuel door....and on and on and on.

One cool option is a $48 key fob cover. No idea why every manufacturer doesn't these in colors, but it's about time.

We already missed the boat on getting the Abarth, should we tweak our 500 with MOPAR options?

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Poco Italiano

July 27, 2011


I've been coming down with a case of wanderlust lately. More specifically, I've been dreaming of returning to my spiritual home, Italy. It's been four years since I've been and my Italian is probably a little rusty. And what a great language it is. So this morning, I had the idea of using our little Fiat as a language tutor.

I had these grand fantasies that the voice recognition would speak and understand Italian. Perhaps I could try to use all of the functions on my way into the office. Sadly, it seems like the only feature that can be switched over is the driver information center. Oh well.

By the way, "impostazioni" (pronounced eeem-po-stat-zee-oh-neee) is basically "settings" in English.

Mark Takahashi, Editore di Automobili

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Fiat Launches iPad App

July 26, 2011

Fiat has joined Hyundai and Ford in being one of a few automakers launching iPad apps for their cars. Unlike Fiat's smartphone app, its free lifestyle Fiat Source iPad app features the 2012 Fiat 500 in a photo gallery showcasing four new artists -- photographer, graffiti artist, graphic artist and an art collective Public School member. iPad users can also explore the 500 from every angle via an interactive catalog. In a magazine format, Fiat Source will be updated quarterly and cover other subjects like music, fashion and travel.

I dunno. Any Fiat 500 owners out there who are into this? Trying to think if I'd be excited about this if this was an iPad app for Mini. Meh.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Hello? HELLO?

July 12, 2011

old phone.jpg

Despite living in L.A. for 11 years I still have a heavy Boston accent. Just ask my colleagues - they remind me periodically. Still, for the most paaht, I enunciate words clearly enough that I usually don't have a problem with in-car voice command systems. Not so with the 500's hands-free hook-up.

I was glad to see the Fiat features automatic phone book download, but noticed it got names mixed up several times. I would clearly command it to "Call Greg" and the disembodied lady would respond with "Do you want to call Brent?". And when I said "No", the system would just hang up on me, rather letting me repeat the name. Furthermore, when I was on a call, sometimes the folks on the other end complained about the clarity (or rather lack thereof) of my voice. One even said it sounded like I was in a cave. Maybe a better microphone for the system would help matters...

John DiPietro, Automotive Editor at 4,757 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Reach Around the Wheel

July 10, 2011

IMG_2651.jpg I drove the Fiat 500 for the first time over a recent weekend and, like Al Austria, I was both amazed and amused by people's reaction to the little Italian car. But unlike Al, I found it surprisingly fun to drive.

Since I primarily test technology in cars, I was more interested in the performance of the electronics than the mechanical aspects of the 500. The Bose system that's part of the $350 Safety and Sound Package option wasn't bad considering the price, but the iPod integration was maddening.

And after driving the Fiat 500 for several days I noticed something else that's very frustrating.

The reach around the steering wheel to adjust the volume was awkward for me. I'm not sure if this has something to do with my physique and seating position or the small size of the car. But I never noticed this in any other vehicle.

And I was really wishing for steering-wheel audio controls in the 500.

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

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2012 Fiat 500's Smartphone Apps: Making It Easy To RTFM

July 08, 2011

It all started when I was trying to figure out what the "Radio off: 00 min" option meant on our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport's audio menu. There's no clarification for it in the owner's manual. But an online search turned up a free Fiat 500 Vehicle Info app for smartphones (Blackberries and iPhones). Nifty!

With the app, reaching for the owner's manual is the easiest thing ever. No having to run down to the garage (which, here, involves an elevator ride and two flights of stairs) to retrieve the manual. You can peruse it to your heart's content while enjoying your Macchiato at the local coffeehouse.

Not only does it include "Instrument Panel" and "Vehicle Operation" (and pictures) from the manual but you can locate the nearest Fiat dealer using your smartphone's GPS, shop the Fiat Store, learn about Mopar parts, and call 24-hour roadside assistance with the push of a button/screen.

I also love that there's a search function. However, I still couldn't find out more about that "Radio Off" option. Hm. Anyone know? I must know.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 4,535 miles

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: Hill Holder Is Useful

June 07, 2011

fiat_500_hillholder.JPG With a few exceptions, greater Los Angeles is about as flat as Keanu Reeves' acting. So having a hill holder feature on a car here doesn't come into play very often. (A hill holder keeps your manual-transmission car from rolling backwards as you start up an incline.) Even so, I noticed our Fiat 500 has this feature as I was inching up this metered freeway on-ramp.

Of course, you can use the parking brake to prevent roll-back. But for a car that's meant for city use (or perhaps more likely to be owned by younger/less experienced drivers), it's a thoughtful thing to include.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2012 Fiat 500 Sport: TMI?

May 11, 2011

What do you think of this display on our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport? Too much info crowded into a small space? FYI, you have the option to display the speed or not. And the trip info has to be clicked to as it's not readily shown. In any case, I was surprised how easy this was to read. Sure, it's a lot of info all over the place but you get it after awhile, I credit Tweetdeck (Twitter platform for those who don't know).

By the way, that digital speedo actually matched the speed displayed on the regular speedo. So that's something.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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